Obama said: “We have to confront, ” he said.
“We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie, nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek,” he added. “They are not religious leaders, they are terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
Obama urged Muslim communities step up and speak out against those who commit atrocities in the name of their faith. He also urged Muslim leaders to “discredit the notion that our nations are at odds with Islam, that there’s an inevitable clash of nations.”
“Of course the terrorists do not speak for a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology,” he said. “They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism. No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.”
Obama also stressed the need for societies to address the social and economic grievances that extremists exploit. “Poverty alone does not cause someone to become a terrorist, any more than poverty causes someone to become a criminal.” he said.
But poverty and political repression, Obama added, can provide extremist groups with a fertile recruiting ground. “When there are no outlets where people can express their grievances, resentments fester,” he said. “Terrorist groups are all too happy to step into a void.”
Obama made the comments during the second day of a three-day White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.
It came at a time of heightened violence in the Middle East as well as in African that has been propagated by terrorist groups claiming to defend Islam. On the border between Syria and Iraq, the US government and its allies are fighting the group that calls itself, the Islamic State. The group has carried out and tapped gruesome murders of captives in recent weeks.
In Africa, the Boko Haram terrorist group has abducted hundreds of people, mostly women and killed several thousands in Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger.
The summit is drawing together experts from the US government and the private sector, along with representatives from over 60 countries and various nongovernmental organizations, to discuss how to empower local communities to push back against violent extremists.
Plans for the summit were finalized last month in the wake of deadly shootings in France, Canada, and Australia that were inspired by radical Islamist groups. Another deadly shooting in Copenhagen last week, inspired by extremists with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), further underscored the threat posed by that group’s violent ideology.